Elder Isaac Shaahu is a second republic Minister for Commerce. In this interview with MOSES MBAIORGA, a former member of the House of Representatives and ex-leader of the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC said 2023 presidency is strictly for the Middle Belt region.
You have become very quiet recently and alot of people are wondering whether you are still in politics. Why?
I have been in politics for many years. As a matter of fact, I retired the way no politician has ever done. I started my working career with the Tiv Native Authority (NA) in the Works Department. I was trained as a Technical Assistant. Afterwards, I was appointed in charge of all the roads (federal, regional and district roads) in Tiv area. While I was working as Tiv Local government Authority Technical Assistant, I got involved in politics quietly.
Who brought you into politics?
Those who encouraged me to get involved in politics were one kindred head in my area; Chief Amose Yagwa. There were other illustrious sons in that kindred who had even occupied political positions. He said I should come and contest for councillor. He ignited my interest. When we are preparing for independence, we had to do a lot of things pertaining to democracy and politics. I contested for councillor in Amua area and I got the election. After that, I came back and started working with the Native Authority. After the councillorship, I became the Chairman of my local government council. We had portfolios and my main position was to train councillors and other people to come and take part in politics. After that, other people, especially late Sen. JS Tarka, who was the leader of UNBC, was my teacher in school, started engineering me to contest for election into higher positions.
Because while in school, I ran for the House of Assembly for Gaav/Shangev Constituency and I won against people who were older and richer than me. Hon. Angwe Asen in particular. I defeated him and he never forgave me. I went to the house and I became almost like a son to Sir Amadu Bello, the Premier and NPC leader. He was a gentleman but his followers were bad people and his followers were many from middle belt who wanted to get positions like minister or deputy minister. To a point, I became a leader of the opposition and I was recognised because I was leading seven persons. However, I was following JS Tarka very closely. The course he (JS) set for the Middle Belt. I followed it. After his demise, I became the Chairman, Middle-belt Forum. That was how we continued until the soldiers intervened.
I was made a Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural and Foreign Resources from Tiv area. I worked hard in this. I finished my five year term when the soldiers struck . I came home and became the leader of Middle Belt and acted big (fearing nothing). When the soldiers took over, Gen. Yakubu Gowon created six states each in the north and south. The creation of these six states gave me the commissionership. After another military intervention we had to go back and start all over. This time, I went to National Assembly as the member representing Gaav/Shangev Constituency. When I got to Reps, we were waiting for the inauguration where I was to be sworn in as the Speaker, which I won through our internal elections. President Shehu Shagari picked me up and gave me an appointment as Minister for Commerce. I was not happy, because as a former Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural and Foreign Resources, I thought I was best at that but he said Isaac you must take it.
After 4 years, the House was dissolved and I came back home. All that was left with me was the leadership of the United Middle Belt People’s Congress. That was what I did until I retired at 79 or so because I didn’t have the strength to be moving round the middle belt states again. Funny enough, the man to succeed me, somebody Juta from Yola, felt he could not manage it and that is how the leadership of Middlebelt is down, but hopefully, one day our leaders will take it up.
You said you were the leader of the United Middlebelt People’s Congress and you were fighting for a course, what was the actual thing that you were fighting for?
We were fighting to have our own state where we can make our laws unbiased. You know Middle Belt was predominantly Christians and atheists. So the leadership of NPC wanted to coerce us into Islam and we wanted to have a state where everyone decides on his own to join a particular religion. That was fought until we had our states during Gowon’s regime.
Do you think by the creation of states, the Middle Belt will have no other cause to fight?
The present politicians have no time to work for the people, they are only working for themselves, which is not good. Now we have Benue state and other states, if anything is wrong we should hold the person we elected responsible. He should know our demands if he is a good leader. Then, there was a discrimination that we wanted out of the system. Because of this, they introduced a commission that was similar to Zoning system or Ya Na Angbian style in Tiv in distributing leadership.
What the people of Middle Belt have not achieved is elected President of this country. Yakubu Gowon was Head of State by emergency. Having seen the marginalization, he created six states from north and also from south. He did a good job only that he over stayed. Now the contention would have been for the Middle Belt to produce an elected president. Though the presidency is between the Middle Belt and the Igbos, I will go for Middle Belt, particularly Benue state because we fought for it with all our strength and might. I am not being parochial for a Tiv man being the president of this country for once. The Igbos will have problem because of IPOB but the two can manage; one will be President, one will be Vice.
We are going into elections 2023. I think it is the time to take it.
How do you think the people of Middle Belt can canvass for the president of Nigeria?
Well, they will come together to support someone who has worked for government in different areas. They can make Nigerians see him suitable for the job, that’s all. The Igbos are already struggling to win the race about four of them are already warning up and if they come in alliance with the Middle Belt, it will be fine.
Amongst the political leaders we have in Benue state particularly Tiv nation, if Benue is tipped for president or vice president, who do you think is qualified to occupy the seat?
In my mind, I have George Akume there. He was the governor for 8 years, Senator for 12 years and now Minister. So I think he has what it takes to be the President or Vice President if he comes out. In my mind I trust him because he carried people along particularly elders during his two terms as a governor. Any decision that he wanted to take, he will involve the elders to either accept or reject it. So he had listening ears.
What is your perception towards zoning system?
I support zoning system because it is the principle of eat and give your brother which originated in Tiv land long time ago. Nigeria has accepted the practice and it’s helping.
So following the zoning that has been in practice in Benue state over the years, which part of the state should be favoured to produce the governor come 2023?
Anybody who presents himself and we accept him. However, in democracy majority carries the vote. That is what has been happening to Benue; the majority.
Who are the majority?
You should know who are the majority. You see, the national population commission is always giving the majority; state by state, local government by local government even ward by ward.
Let us assume that Tiv people are the majority in Benue state, therefore which part of Tiv should produce the governor that would succeed Ortom?
If a good person comes from Kunav, Vandeikya Local Government Area, he should be given the governorship slot. This is their time because even senatorial elections they had never held, so if they (Kunav) can provide a good candidate they can take it. Some of us can work for the person (From Kunav) provided he is good, not that he will come from no where without knowing how to handle politicians. He will come and take and go and that’s all. You have Ortom now, he started from the bottom. I happened to know him very well. He started as a councilor. Whatever people say,
I think he has followed us, minus the mistake he made by leaving APC which gave him the governorship for PDP. PDP came first and from there we formed APC just as from Middlebelt we formed NADACO.
Why did you say Kunav should be given the chance to produce the next governor?
We cannot go fighting for that now.
Tiv people have been producing governor of Benue state from time immemorial. Don’t you think 2023 should be the turn of Zone C particularly the Idoma to produce the next governor?
That is where I told you to bring in the rules of democracy because it deals with the majority. The opposition can have their say but the majority will always carry the vote. Again, for Idoma to produce a governor, there must be a very transparent candidate who will be known among the Tiv people as their own. Until that man proves himself of being one among the Tivs, it will not be possible. Because they had every chance during the NPC era. They had Minister, deputy minister and everything. All the positions that came to Benue that time went to zone C. You know, politics is like trying to marry a woman, you will keep pleasing her people and so on until the marriage comes through. So they will have to produce somebody like one General Ejiga who will take care of his people and the other two zones, else it will be difficult for them.
You made mention of the mistake Governor Ortom did by leaving APC for PDP, if Ortom decides to return to APC now, will it be a welcome development for him and Benue state?
Well, a committee will be set for him to give the reasons he left us because party building is like caring for a child. First you see the child sits, you see him stand and then start walking and becomes an adult. So you worked for your party and you were doing well and then somebody was suddenly brought in and then suddenly left, after a while he will still come back. We politicians don’t want someone who is moving up and down. We want steady people because if you are steady, you will take decisions for your people without fear and vice versa. That is why we grudge him.
You said Governor Suswam’s administration was not worth-a-while, why did you say so?
I don’t want to be dragged to court because I will speak the truth and I must prove it. He did not carry Benue people along because if sold Benue cement on which the people depended, is he kind to Benue people? I made Benue cement what it is. I did it by blackmail because when the report about Benue cement was brought, I worked with the people from Lagos; Martins (something) and Sons Limited. Why I said I brought Benue cement by blackmail is that as a member of the house (Northern House of Assembly), when the report came that they were going to consent Sokoto cement, and it was not as good as Benue cement, because there they have to dig deep before getting the limestone. So one day as I was contributing to something in the house during one of our sittings, I told Sadauna of Sokoto that you said you love us (Benue) but you don’t because you are constructing cement factory in Sokoto which the one in Benue State that is far better off is still untapped. So if you love Tiv people do to them what you are doing to your people. That’s why I said it was through blackmail because I blackmailed him.
Nigerians have been yearning for political restructuring and reformation, what is your comment on this?
Up till now there are other areas under federal government while others are under state and local governments, so if it is necessary, and you can’t stop this people because they want it, you can go ahead with the restructuring and reformation provided it will work better.
Generally, what do you think should be done to make democracy more viable?
It is very simple. Only those who will cater for the needs of the people should be elected, then your vote is not wasted. When I say care for the people I do not mean giving them money but providing the needed and basic facilities, like medical services, schools, good roads and electricity, etc, for them.